Gabriola’s director wanted to explore lower library levy increase

Electoral Area B’s director wanted to explore a lower proposed levy increase for Vancouver Island Regional Library’s 2023 budget, but the majority of trustees went in another direction.

Vanessa Craig was one of four trustees present who voted against VIRL’s 2023 budget in late September while 86 per cent of trustees were in favour. She told the Sounder she wanted to investigate what an increase around 7-7.5 per cent would have looked like. Staff told trustees that could affect services, including fewer new titles and copies of books, resulting in longer wait times between holds, as well as potential impacts to programming.

“While I think everyone would agree this isn’t optimal, given the current economic climate I think it would have been a useful discussion to better understand what a lower increase would look like and what the impact on services would be,” Craig said. “I think all of the trustees at the table recognize the value of VIRL – that’s not an issue.”

The Regional District of Nanaimo’s electoral areas, who Craig represents at the VIRL board table, are looking at an increase of 9.89 per cent. As per the provincial Library Act, each member’s levy is calculated based on 50 per cent population and 50 per cent assessed value. Final increases will be determined once 2022 populations and assessments are released early next year.

Municipal and regional district levies will contribute just over $27.5 million to the library system’s $33 million 2023 budget. Levies are expected to account for about 92 per cent of revenue while provincial grants will cover six per cent. Interest income and miscellaneous fees round out revenue sources.

Ninety-seven per cent of VIRL’s costs are fixed, including wages, rent and debt repayments. Craig noted the Union of BC Municipalities has been advocating for a provincial funding increase for several years. This year the B.C. government provided $14 million in annual funding for public libraries’ operating costs. From 2019 to 2022, VIRL received $1,282,481 in annual provincial grants, which includes funds for operating, resource sharing – interlibrary loans, literacy and equity and the BC OneCard, which gives library patrons loan access to library systems throughout the province. VIRL’s operating grant has been about $1.2 million since 2018 and has increased by $151,415 since 2002.

For 2023, the system-wide levy change has been set at an average of 8.1 per cent, a per capita change of $3.44, versus 3.84 per cent in 2022 and 1.87 per cent in 2021, equating per capita changes of $1.52 and $0.36, respectively.

VIRL says it is now serving a population of approximately 490,000 compared to 463,215 in 2021.

“I anticipate this is the first in a series of difficult budget conversations that will occur at various tables over the coming months as rising costs due to supply chain issues, coupled with rising inflation, impact pretty much every aspect of service provision,” Craig said.

Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder